While the National Center for Educational Statistics reports that the rate of US high school graduation has been steadily increasing, according to a new report by James J. Heckman and Paul A. LaFontaine, it has actually declined for the last 40 years. It peaked at 80% for those born in 1950 and the most current data shows a graduation rate of just 75% (click on the graph above for a larger version).
The report details all the reason for the differences in the numbers, but the key one is that the NCES counts those who get GEDs as graduating while Heckman and LaFontaine don't. They exclude GEDs because:
Although GED recipients have the same measured academic ability as high school graduates who do not attend college, they have the economic and social outcomes of otherwise similar dropouts without certification.Education is getting almost no attention in this election, but if the US wants to remain competitive in the 21st century it is the most important topic. If the graduation rate is going down, it deserves much more emphasis.
The report also looks at some other issues as described in the abstract:
Correcting for important biases that plague previous calculations, we establish that (a) the true high school graduation rate is substantially lower than the official rate issued by the National Center for Educational Statistics; (b) it has been declining over the past 40 years; (c) majority/minority graduation rate differentials are substantial and have not converged over the past 35 years; (d) the decline in high school graduation rates occurs among native populations and is not solely a consequence of increasing proportions of immigrants and minorities in American society; (e) the decline in high school graduation explains part of the recent slowdown in college attendance; and (f) the pattern of the decline of high school graduation rates by gender helps to explain the recent increase in male-female college attendance gaps.The other statistic I found interesting is that the rate of college graduation peaked for males born in 1950 at 25% and has held steady at 20-25% from then on, while the rate for females born in 1950 was 15% and has steadily gained to 35% today.